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Robb, Peter (1993) 'Ideas in agrarian history: some observations on the British and nineteenth-century Bihar.' In: Arnold, David and Robb, Peter, (eds.), Institutions and Ideologies. A SOAS South Asia Reader. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, pp. 201-223. (Collected papers on South Asia, no. 10)

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I wrote ten years ago about the need to employ the idea of resources rather than structures in understanding Indian rural society.3 I had discovered in nineteenth-century Bihar both the extreme variability of ranking year-by-year according to anyone criterion (outside, that is, of very broad categories), and the conditionality and changing fortunes of particular advantages over time. Behind this idea-though I do not guarantee that I appreciated it fully at the time-lay others about the essential ambiguity and multiplicity of roles and functions in all societies. This is to assert that there is no such thing, in absolute terms, as, say, 'economics', and that different peoples have different pictures in their minds, and organise themselves according to varied principles and categories. The word 'peasant', for example, has spawned a vast academic industry, based on the premise that there is a kind of person or society common to many parts of the world and conforming more or less to certain characteristics. The peasant is an individual producer using family labour, concentrating on his subsistence, and (though subordinate to external elites) living among others of his kind. The problem with this definition occurs when researchers discover peasants who do not conform. In much of India, I believe, it is not true to say that the dominant mode is a peasant one. Though we all go on using the term in a more popular sense, we do not mean that we find everywhere family-farm production, homogeneity, and a lack of involvement in the market. On the contrary we find employment of labour, social differentiation, and the production of crops for sale.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Legacy Departments > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
ISBN: 9780700702831
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2008 15:11

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